World Youth Day 2019 Draws Hundreds of Thousands to Panama

Faithful and priests from around the globe gather for Mass at World Youth Day.
Faithful and priests from around the globe gather for Mass at World Youth Day.

by Adriana Watkins


An open-air Sunday Mass on January 27 finished the World Youth Day (WYD) event in Panama City, Panama, which drew hundreds of thousands of participants. The gathering spanned five days and featured opportunities for prayer, Confession, Communion, fellowship, cultural celebrations, and music. In addition to the many bishops, thousands of priests, and hundreds of thousands of young people, Pope Francis came from Rome to say Mass and speak directly to young Catholics. He remained in Panama for three days before returning to Vatican City on Sunday evening.


WYD is an international event intended to renew the vigor and devotion of the newer generations of Catholics. It is hosted every three years, with a new theme and location each time; the theme for 2019 was based on the Virgin Mary’s words in the Gospel of Luke: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). Past events—like 2016’s WYD in Krakow, Poland—have focused on themes like mercy and evangelization.


WYD began on Tuesday, January 22, with opening ceremonies and a welcome Mass. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday featured catechetical sessions in the mornings, aided by visiting bishops. The evenings were populated by cultural and musical events in different locations throughout the city, and attendees also had the chance each day to go to Confession.


The Pope arrived Thursday afternoon and addressed the crowds of young people, saying in part, “[The Church wants] to tell go forward, not to create a parallel Church that would be more ‘fun’ or ‘cool’ thanks to a fancy youth event, as if that were all you needed or wanted. That way of thinking would not respect either you or everything that the Spirit is saying through you.”


He concluded, “Dear young friends, the most hope-filled result of this day will not be a final document, a joint letter or a programme to be carried out. The most hope-filled result of this meeting will be your faces and a prayer. Each of you will return home with the new strength born of every encounter with others and with the Lord.”      


The Pope joined the young Catholics for Stations of the Cross on Friday and a vigil on Saturday night.


Attendance at WYD was estimated to be approximately 400,000, though some outlets have recorded 700,000 people at the closing Mass on Sunday. This is a slight decrease from past WYD events, likely due in part to the timing of the gathering; many young people from nations in the Northern Hemisphere are currently in school.


Even so, the US was not unrepresented, with several bishops attending the event, along with popular speakers like Jason Evert and Sister Bethany Madonna. Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston also traveled to Panama. Though many young American Catholics were unable to attend WYD, the SEEK2019 event drew crowds of 18,000 just three weeks ago in Indianapolis, Indiana.


At the closing of WYD on Sunday, Pope Francis encouraged young people not to be discouraged by the limitations of their age, saying, “You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God. ...For Jesus, there is no ‘meantime’, but only a merciful love that wants to enter into and win over our hearts. ...He is festive joy, born of opting for and taking part in the miraculous draught of hope and charity, solidarity and fraternity, despite the paralyzed and paralyzing gaze born of fear and exclusion, speculation and manipulation.”


It was announced at the farewell Mass that the next WYD will take place in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2022.


Photo courtesy of World Youth Day via Facebook

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